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Going live musically

PULSE
By | February 18th 2011

The rebirth of four part music — horns & keyboard, strings & vocals — played live is taking over from allure of lip synching as fans and musicians embrace quality shows, writes Stevens Muendo

With MTV Award winning songstress Wahu Kagwi-Kamoni belting up to her 2003 hit single Sitishiki, the mammoth crowd at Kisumu Polytechnic Grounds went into a frenzy.

The ecstasy was temporally interrupted by drama as drunken rival groups in the crowd clashed. It was dread and nerve gripping uncertainty as cries of agony swept through the grounds.

But the feuds were halted as security guards combed through the crowds ejecting out troublemakers. In a jiffy, the carnival was back. It was barely 10pm and the attendance had surged into thousands. Amidst the jubilation, there was legitimate concern among the organisers that a stampede was imminent. The question on whether they had under-estimated the capacity they would contain remains a story for another day.

Animated applause rented the air as Wahu, who was accompanied by her two energetic dancing queens, went sensational with yet another old golden track Liar.

It was the kind of atmosphere which sets the pace for a great concert and sure, what a perfect way to kick off the year at the lakeside city. Sweet love it was and Sweet Love did Wahu sing on under the magnificently lit stage, thanks to the Homeboyz Showbiz Empire.

Titanic clash

It was the face-off of titans. There was Nameless, Redsan, Wyre, Jua Cali, Wahu and Linda Muthama. Sassy Tiera G and comeback boy group Rude Boyz represented Mombasa. Juliani and Eko Dyda kicked in a gospel touch as Osogo Winyo completed the menu of star-studded performers whose hits cut across the genres to the satisfaction of the multitude representing all generations.

Besides, there was one unique aspect of the concert, which seemed to kick a fresh lease of life to the performers and their old hits. This was Safaricom Live. There were two bands.

On this night, The Altimate Band and the Juma Tutu Band, fully loaded with instruments and back-up singers, were up to the task with a 48 songs non-stop live show to execute. From Nameless’ Deadly, Maisha, Nasinzia, Salari, Jua Cali’s Genge, Wyre’s reggae, Juliani’s hip-hop to Redsan’s ragga tone hits such as Leo ni Leo, Touch and Yule Pale the sound of life instruments pumped in life to the concert. The usual monotony of playbacks — which has characterised Kenyan concerts over the years — had been replaced with a well-synchronised live performance. And the back-up singers did not disappoint.

From the resonating tunes of guitars, keyboards, violin and saxophone the thundering drums and enchanting shakers, the beauty of Kenyan urban secular music seemed to hit a new peak and the fans enjoyed it. "With the band aspect coming in, our artistes are now realising that music should be done professionally and they have upped their game to fit in this new trend of live shows. We are moving to a whole new level," says Walter Mong’are, the brains behind The Altimate Band, the official band at the concert.

"We are seeing more artistes appreciating the fact that live shows brings out the talent in an artiste. Music gets complete when all musical elements are factored and that is where live shows comes in. There is no debating the value fans get for their money after getting treated to a well co-ordinated live show," he maintains.

There might be nothing so spectacular about bands and live shows taking entertainment centre stage in Kenya. But the fact that the Pulse generation celebrity singers have embraced this turn-around is a point to ponder.

"The Kenya Live initiative is looking at enhancing the artistes’ live music performance as opposed to over-reliance on play-back which has been a common trend in the local music industry," says Washington Akumu of Safaricom.

According to Akumu, the Kenya Live initiative by Safaricom is designed to nurture music talent among youths across the country by using established artistes to share knowledge.

This exercise is aimed at ensuring that local artistes not only gain fame from their performances but make a decent income out of it as well.

FRESH START

From the onset, the fresh stars are expected to adopt live music performance as opposed to over-reliance on playback, which has been a common trend in the local music industry.

"The first thing we had to do was to put all the artistes signed up in this project under a monthly retainer perk. With the monthly pay, artistes can live a comfortable life even without gigs and therefore concentrate on making quality recordings without much hustle," remarks Akumu. Under the arrangement, the mobile telephony provider has been helping the artistes in marketing their productions through its online portals in what is expected to increase earnings from the trade. However, some of the artistes involved in the project are quick to dispute the retainer funds claim.

"The upcoming artistes from every region are paid between Sh15,000 and Sh40,000 for each concert. The retainer fee is probably a reserve for the main singers," said one of them speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The plan to record under Safaricom is still on the hold. What I know is that they are really pushing the ringtones downloads and that way singers are benefiting," added the source.

Further investigations revealed that each band member in the project is paid roughly the same amount as the upcoming artistes same as the dancing troupes. About Sh250 million had been set aside for the project.

The countrywide music promotion campaign has seen major concerts held in major towns such as Bungoma, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru with a climax show slated for Nairobi in April.

"We wish to play our part in creating a Kenyan music industry that is professionally-run in all aspects. We want to turn music into a career out of which our people can earn a decent living, not just pride and fame," notes Safaricom’s Head of Strategy and New Business Nzioka Waita. Top singers like Amani, Nyota Ndogo and Suzzanna Owiyo have fully embraced the services of bands, which they travel with for major concerts.

BAND TIME

"I have been working with the fully-fledged all-girl band, the Murfy’s Flaw in the last two years. We usually practise twice a week. Performing with a band comes with major costs but the rewards are worthwhile," notes Amani.

"Even long before I joined Tusker Project Fame, I was performing with a band. The Altimate Band is my home. Besides my involvement, I am now happy to see other artistes enlisting the services of the band," says Linda Muthama, now director of The Altimate Band.

Whereas the new shift is a positive one worth being embraced the truth is that only a couple of the new generation musicians can afford to hire a band in every gig they attend.

Hiring a good band costs approximately Sh100,000 per session, a figure that may sound astronomical for an artiste earning Sh50,000 or less in a concert.

More so, the skills and amount of time needed for an artiste may prove a tall order for most of the new artistes as they would rather have quick unsustainable gains over a long term rewarding and reputable singing career.

"Most Kenyan artistes are after quick buck. They want to hit the studio and leave with a track the same day ready to go and perform. That explains why there is no longevity in most of the new hits. Such singers can’t last the test of time," notes Juma Tutu, an accomplished saxophonist and force behind the Juma Tutu Band.

"It takes time to build a good music product and our philosophy as Juma Tutu Band is to give the best to our fans and clients. My band members try as hard as they can to become all round artistes. We urge other musicians to follow suit," adds Juma who is also a brother to Nyota Ndogo, the Mombasa-based songstress.

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